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Telehealth Equipment to Provide New Learning Opportunities for Nursing Students

Dr. Lisa Palmer and Dr. Julia Greenawalt of the Department of Nursing and Allied Health Professions have received a $299,890 grant for their project “Simulation of Telehealth for Education and Practice (STEP).”

The grant will fund IUP’s purchase of simulation equipment for a setting that mirrors the home of a rural patient with a common chronic illness such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, or obesity.

Palmer, the primary investigator, is the chairwoman of the Department of Nursing and Allied Health Professions.

“Because of a shortage of nurses, there is an increasing number of home health care patients, especially in the rural areas, who are monitored by telehealth systems,” Palmer said.

Telehealth systems include a monitor in a patient’s home that is linked to a home health care agency office. Through a telehealth system, a nurse from the health care agency obtains information from the monitor and evaluates the patient from the office to make recommendations for continued care.

“The simulation equipment will enhance undergraduate nursing education with opportunities to practice nursing care with electronic documentation and telehealth services prior to their on-site experiential work,” Palmer said.

“The new simulated laboratory will advantage IUP students because a telehealth nurse must not only receive data from patients, but learn how to work with patients in the home.”

Plans call for the simulation laboratory to be completed by the end of the Spring 2011 semester.

After completing required nursing classes, IUP nursing majors must complete clinical course settings including community health agencies, community based organizations, acute care settings, long-term care facilities, and schools.

Senior-level coursework includes a community nursing theory course and a seven-week rotation in community health.

“These courses will directly benefit from the telehealth simulation opportunities, but all students will have the opportunity to work with the equipment in the new laboratory,” Palmer said.

The use of telehealth technology is becoming more common in rural Pennsylvania, and Indiana has a shortage of health professionals, officials say.

Currently, IUP partners with the Visiting Nursing Association-Hospice of Indiana County and DuBois Home Health and Hospice. In 2009, VNA served 533 out of 3,047 patients through telehealth services, and DuBois Home Health used thirty-two telehealth home monitors a month, with some clients using monitors for two to three months at a time.

With the new equipment, students will undergo simulation scenarios in a structured laboratory environment. The equipment includes a high-fidelity simulation manikin, a simulated electronic health record and medical record system, telehealth monitoring equipment, nurse’s station unit, and peripheral devices.

The project will ultimately help to control costs and improve patient care and nursing administration by producing entry-level nurses who are better prepared to function in the community health environment, Palmer said. This initiative also supports the American Nurses Association’s Core Principles on Telehealth.

The project is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The award is from the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Greenawalt was instrumental in founding the department’s simulation laboratory in in 2007, Palmer said, and serves as the department’s learning lab-simulation coordinator.

IUP’s current laboratory was renovated and expanded in 2009 and includes a moderate fidelity lab with nine adult manikins, two adolescent manikins, one baby manikin, an IV haptic training unit and other task trainers, and a high-fidelity simulation suite with two simulated hospital rooms, a control-observation room, and the capability to broadcast to nearby classrooms.

In addition to training IUP student nurses, the new simulation laboratory could be used for collaborative community training opportunities for emergency responders and home health agencies, Palmer said.

Another important training aspect of the new simulation equipment is the opportunity for students to learn how to use electronic health and medical records. Beginning nurses are expected to be able to access data and perform documentation using computerized patient records, so faculty members need to be prepared to provide this important training for all undergraduate nursing students, Palmer said.

“Ultimately, with the development of a simulated home health laboratory and the electronic medical record system training equipment, it is our goal to teach undergraduate nursing students to master the skills necessary for entry into the home health and acute care workforce,” Palmer said. “The simulation laboratory experience is also designed to assist students with identifying safety measures in the home health environment that can better serve patients and decrease re-hospitalization rates.”

More than 2,900 students have graduated from IUP’s Bachelor of Science in nursing degree program, with 110 to 120 students graduating each academic year. The department also houses three allied health majors: Clinical Laboratory Science, Respiratory Care, and Nuclear Medicine Technology. More than three hundred students are enrolled in these majors.

The nursing program also offers master’s degree programs in education and nursing administration and a doctoral program with a research focus in nursing education. This program began in 2008 with eleven students in the first cohort. A second cohort of fifteen began coursework in the Fall.